Modern Matinees: B Is for Bogart

Wide ranging in theme and narrative, this chronological selection captures the evolution of Humphrey Bogart (1899–1957) from typecast tough to superstar of the Hollywood studio system. These films—all drawn from MoMA’s collection—underscore the canny mutability of both Bogart’s acting style and his choices of starring vehicles and directors.

Bogart began his career in two short films, The Dancing Town (1928) and the Vitaphone short Broadway’s Like That (1929), before garnering his first key role in John Ford’s Up the River (1930), costarring with Spencer Tracy and Claire Luce. The next few years saw Bogart commuting coast to coast, trying to build a movie career while paying the bills with Broadway stage work. Bogart himself acknowledged that his acting persona and methodology changed following his 1935 Broadway performance in the Robert Sherwood drama The Petrified Forest (which he later reprised onscreen in Archie L. Mayo’s adaptation); he was so accomplished as the rough Duke Mantee that he spent many years at Warner Bros. playing second-billed tough guys, gangsters, and thieves. This narrow view of Bogart’s potential range by studio bosses caused no end of dissatisfaction for the ambitious actor. Bogart’s friendship with John Huston, who wrote the screenplay for High Sierra, put him in good stead with director Raoul Walsh, and Bogart landed the lead role. Though he was still playing a tough, his career shifted to an A-list trajectory. Bogart eventually won an Oscar for his portrayal of the brassy Charlie Allnut in The African Queen (1951), the culmination of his longtime professional relationship with John Huston.

Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film, MoMA.